This exercise was left til after I’d finished the assignment, because I needed time to shop for a prop, a dry sunny afternoon and time to process my thinking. The win here for me was not so much about re-creating the memory, but about thinking about photography and memory. I’ll explore this more below.
I was about six or seven years old and in the back garden of our Coventry semi on a sunny summer afternoon. My mum was there too, drinking tea with one of her friends, surprisingly neither of my sisters were there. I was playing with my knitted doll, and noticed that somehow the yarn had broken on her chest and a few loops and an end were visible. My (undiagnosed as yet) shortsighted vision reduced still further to the disruption erupting amongst the ordered stitching. My curiosity about the destructive possibilities (what happens if I pull the loose end?) was in direct conflict to my distress that my doll was unravelling. Eventually I interrupted the adult conversation, pointed out my problem, and my mother presented me with a needle and thread which gave rise to a whole new set of problems in the short term and ultimately a lifetime of hand-sewn, knitted and crocheted blankets and quilts for my own household.
This image was made in a different garden, a different place, a different time, with a different doll and a different blanket. Looking at the set in my back garden though made me think of Madeleine L’Engles “A Wrinkle in Time” – the idea that something as simple as a fold in the fabric of time could bring two disparate moments together.
I started thinking about how I remember my past. Some of my memories are triggered by photos of the exact same event. There are no photos of this event, but there are countless photos of that garden, at that time. It was the early 1970s, the photos are in colour. When I remember, do I remember the colours as they were in life, the colours as they were in the film prints of that time, the colours as they are in those film prints in the album now, or do I create some mental misty Instagram-style filter never actually seen in real life but universally acknowledged as denoting the past?
I wondered about the type of photograph dictates the colour, the context. Our pictures at the time would have been on a 126 format Kodak camera, 110 cameras were yet to go main-stream. While doing this exercise I got out my Polaroid, which was loaded with black and white film, and photographed the doll on the blanket. Then I used my phone to photograph the doll with the Polaroid. Procam tilt and shift filter, Instagram, instant context of a rose-tinted moment in my childhood revisited. Absolutely none of it accurate – not my doll, not my garden, there may not have even been a blanket and we didn’t have a Polaroid. But this image sets up a convincing case for the possibility of accuracy, it would be better if the Polaroid was a bit older or in colour. The hand-knitted doll (not by me) is on a hand-crocheted blanket that I made for my daughter, often with me working on it whilst sat on it in this same garden with my toddler daughter dozing on my lap. Somehow that hurts my head thinking about it.
Pass it through an Instagram filter and remove it still further from fact…
I’d love to shoot the Polaroid in colour, but I still have three black and white exposures left in the camera and don’t want to use any more of them on this work. Then I remembered that I have the Gudak app on my phone – a strange little thing that simulates an old Kodak film camera to the point that you have to wait three days for “processing” after finishing the allocated 24 exposures before any of the images become visible on the camera roll. So I finished off my Gudak “roll” with photographs of the doll, and will update this post on Tuesday evening when the authentically light-leaked images appear on my phone.
Edit – here are a couple of the Gudak images.
Do these shots look older? I’m not sure that they do, I’m used to seeing light leaks on analogue prints rather than digital jpgs on screen.
I also thought about using my OM-1 and processing the prints myself… that might still be an option for this afternoon if I can bring myself to explain to my daughter why I cut a knitted doll that I had only just bought from her friend’s granny’s shop.
This exercise desperately makes me want to use memories as a starting point for exploration. Domestic textiles are of interest to me in my work, and I have some plans for developing this further. It makes me wonder how the Instagram/retro phenomenon will change how our children view photographs, photographs of them often now imply a nostalgia, a golden age of a childhood which for them was literally yesterday. How will their photos age, or as mainly digital JPGs will they be perpetually in an un-aging attic?
In some ways, the photo is absolutely accurate – give or take the doll being slightly larger in a different colourway, the hair is the same, the skin rather pinker. I doubt that this is a memory that my mum still has and in a way I cherish its intimacy, it was a bigger moment for me than for anyone else there.
Wrinkle in Time Trailer – a straight line is not the shortest distance between two points (around 1 min 16 to one minute 1 minute 40)